Today, I'm excited to share an excerpt from my new women's fiction release, The Storm Within. Meet Claire, her daughter, Elise, and her best buddies, Mary and Dana. Be prepared for an emotional journey about family, friends, setbacks and recovery.
From Chapter 26 of The Storm Within . . .
Elise excused herself, and spoke to her father for a few minutes. While she did, a single thought kept running through her mind. This is normal, the way it should be. Family members calling to say Merry Christmas, touching base. Maybe her mom would call.
When Elise sat back down at the table, Meredith turned toward her, concern in her eyes. “How’s your mother doing, Elise? Is she coming later?”
Elise shook her head, not wanting to lie, but not ready to air the family’s dirty laundry, either. She couldn’t quite bring herself to label her mother an alcoholic. Even thinking those words caused a disconnect in her brain. It just didn’t compute.
“She’s staying at the lake house for the holiday. Didn’t feel like driving, or celebrating. It’s been a tough year for her.”
Meredith nodded sympathetically.
Elise studied her mug. Clearly she wasn’t going to be able to escape thoughts of her mother today.
By five o’clock, Elise wanted to scream. She’d called the lake house and her mother’s cell phone at least five times, only to be greeted by a stiff and formal recording suggesting that she leave a message or try again later. Neither option had proven successful.
She ran a hand over her face and fiddled with her bangs.
“El, you know she did say she wanted to be alone today,” Brian reminded her.
Elise threw up her hands. “But it’s crazy. Who wants to be alone on Christmas?” She shook her head and wandered to the window, fighting the uneasiness that stole over her. “I just wanted to tell her Merry Christmas.” She turned back to Brian. “What if something’s wrong?”
“I don’t know, sweetheart.”
“Why wouldn’t she want to talk to the kids? To tell Olivia Merry Christmas?” Or me? Christmas had always been her mother’s favorite holiday. A family day. Elise pushed off from the wall. “I don’t get it.”
She picked up one of Olivia’s new books, and leafed through it. That took about two minutes, then she pulled a deck of cards from the drawer in the side table. But before she could suggest kicking Brian’s butt in a game of gin rummy, Andy scrambled into his lap. Instead, Elise shuffled the cards and started a game of solitaire.
Big mistake. All she could think of was her mother alone at the lake house on Christmas.
“I’m calling Nathan.” She stood up, tears burning her eyes. She found the number then went upstairs to place the call.
“Hi, Nathan. This is Elise Keaton, Claire Stapleton’s daughter. I’m sorry to bother you, but I’ve been trying to get hold of my mother all day, and haven’t been able to reach her. I know this is a huge imposition, but I wonder if you could run over there and check on her.”
“I sure would, Elise, but I’m in St. Louis right now, visiting my folks.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to bother you. Hope you’re having a good Christmas.”
“Not a problem. Honestly, I thought your mom was visiting you for the holiday.”
Elise sucked in her breath. “Really? Did she tell you that?”
“I believe so.”
“She told me she was having dinner with a woman named Lena who lives not far from her.”
“Huh. I could sure call Mrs. Bishop for you.”
“Would you? I hate to impose, but I’d really like to make sure she’s all right.”
“No problem. Give me a few minutes, and I’ll call you back.”
A few minutes later, the call came, and Elise snatched up the phone.
“Nathan here, Mrs. Keaton. Listen, I spoke with Mrs. Bishop, and she said she hasn’t seen your mom for several days. Your mother told her she was going to Wichita for the holiday. I sure am sorry. I don’t know where the mix up happened.”
But Elise knew. Her mother had deliberately deceived them.
“Nathan, how often do you see my mother?”
“Not too much this time of year. I stop by occasionally.”
Occasionally. What did that mean? She wanted to ask so much more, but it was Christmas. She couldn’t unload on the poor guy.
“I wonder . . . if the weather’s not bad, do you suppose Mrs. Bishop could run over to Mom’s place and see if she’s there?”
She heard Nathan’s heavy sigh.
“Unfortunately, they’re not at the lake, either, Mrs. Keaton. We could call the police and have someone check on her if you think there’s something wrong.”
“No. I don’t want to drag someone out on Christmas if there’s no need.” Sending a friend out was one thing, but calling the cops was totally different. She’d have to go herself. “Thanks for your help, Nathan. I really appreciate it.”
Elise made one more call, to Mary, and confirmed that her mother hadn’t gone to Whitfield, either. She hung up the phone and hurried back downstairs. She stared at Brian. “I’ve got to go to the lake.”
His eyes widened. “What? Honey, wait a minute. Are you–”
Elise held up her hands. She’d made up her mind. “I have to, Brian. I won’t be able to sleep tonight if I don’t check on her.”
“El, that’s a six-hour drive. Why don’t you call the police? Tell them it’s not an emergency, but you’d like someone to stop by.”
Elise shook her head. She had to be the one. If something was wrong, if her mother was passed out or sick – she refused to think of anything worse – then Elise wanted to get there first. Not the police. Her mother wouldn’t want that. In fact, she’d be mortified.
For a moment, she hesitated, leaning against the stair rail. If she called the police, would it be a wake-up call for her mother? Would it be enough to get her attention? No, she’d just be furious with Elise. Her mother would never forgive her for the humiliation of that. Protecting her mother from embarrassment was automatic, second nature. It’d been drilled into her head from a very young age. The worst indiscretions were the ones that reflected badly on Mom and the image of her family.
Elise threw some clothes and toiletries into a bag while Brian brewed another pot of coffee. As soon as it was ready, she filled a thermos, gave the kids hugs, and headed for the door.
“Call me as soon as you get there,” Brian said, pulling her into his arms. “And call me if you get sleepy. I’ll talk you through it.”
“I will. Don’t worry.”
Elise kept the heat on low, and the CD volume on high, willing herself to stay alert. A misty fog had developed as she got closer to the lake. And on Christmas night, the roads were eerily deserted. It’d been a good thirty minutes since she’d passed another driver. No surprise there. Everyone should be home, sitting by a warm fire with family and friends. Five hours into the drive and she was still trying to convince herself that making the trip was the right thing to do.
As she approached the house, Elise saw her mother’s car in the driveway. A tiny bit of hope flamed inside her. At least she wasn’t out on the streets. But as Elise drove closer, her heart thumped. The car wasn’t in the drive at all, but halfway in the ditch off to the side. Her mother had obviously missed the driveway and slid off the road, bumping against the mailbox.
Oh, God. Elise gasped. When had it happened? It was freezing outside. If her mother had been in the car all evening . . .
Her pulse pounding, Elise brought the minivan to an abrupt stop and ran to her mother’s car. She yanked open the door. “Mother? Mom?”
The car was empty. That was good, Elise told herself. She’d made it inside. Oh, please let her be in the house. She sprinted back to her van and grabbed her purse, groping for the key to the lake house. Where the hell was it? Elise pounded on the door, yelling. When there was no answer, she dug through her purse again. Her hands shook as she grasped the cold metal and fumbled to get it into the slot.
Finally, the lock turned, and Elise pushed the door open. As she stepped inside, the overwhelming stench of cigarette smoke and cat urine assaulted her senses, and she nearly gagged.
With a cry, Reggie leapt from a table. Elise screamed and dropped her purse. Reggie wound through her legs.
“Oh, my God.” Covering her mouth and nose, Elise stepped farther into the house nudging the cat from under her feet. Stunned, she took in the chaotic scene. The place was strewn with dirty glasses and overflowing ashtrays. Cigarette butts littered the floor around the coffee table. A sweater hung on the back of the new leather recliner, and a crumpled blanket dangled from the sofa.
“Mother?” Elise swiveled as panic hit her. “Mom!” She ran toward her mother’s bedroom, jumping over the coat in the middle of the hallway floor.
The door was open, and her mother, fully clothed, lay sprawled across the bed. “Mom!” she screamed. Elise turned her over, shaking her. “Mom, wake up!”
Elise felt for a pulse, hardly able to hear anything over her own blood pounding in her ears. “Oh, God. Oh, God.” She reached for the phone and dialed nine-one-one.
With fear and anger warring inside her, Elise answered question after question from the paramedics. She answered as best she could, but her information was woefully inadequate. She didn’t know how long her mother had been in that condition, or when she’d last eaten, or how much alcohol she may have consumed, or what her doctor’s name was or what kind of prescription drugs she took. She shook her head. She knew so little.
While the paramedics loaded her mother onto a stretcher, Elise found food for Reggie. There was no time to do anything else. And what did it matter if he did his business a few more times on the floor? The inside of that house was ruined. It’d have to be practically gutted before it could be lived in again.
Somehow, she’d have to convince her mother not to go back, not to be so far away from friends and family. Clearly she needed a support network.
Elise followed the ambulance in her car, talking to Brian on the way. It was a forty-five minute drive to the nearest hospital.
“Listen, El. Don’t forget you’re running on empty, babe. We were up at six o’clock this morning.”
“I know. And believe me, I’m feeling it. I’ll spend the night at the hospital and call you in the morning.”
“Yeah. Don’t drive back to her place.”
“I won’t. I couldn’t stay there, anyway. The house was awful. I can’t believe she’s been living like that.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I can’t believe this is my mom.”